While Oskar was zooming down the slopes this weekend, I spent a lot of time in the lodge. I am still waiting for a skin graft on the back of my left calf to heal, and until then, I can’t wear boots. So instead, I watched Oskar board, and when it got too cold I went into the lodge, and in the lodge I realized some things.The first thing is that skiing and snowboarding are a young man’s game. In three days I met a lot of people and the only person near my age was the 71 year old woman who worked in the Guest Relations kiosk. Even the older non-skiing parents were younger than me by a decade. I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s an exertion to get up into the mountains, especially when you have to put chains on your car in 8° weather while your ten year old sits in the car and shivers. Yes, it costs more money than you think. But there are maybe two or three times during a typical day when the beauty and the quiet of the world sneaks up on you. And that’s more than usually happens in a week back home. I can’t wait until next season when I can be up there with my son and enjoy that frosty bliss.
The second thing is that nothing like that happens in the lodge. Ever. Especially when there is a playlist of late 70s rock pumped everywhere, indoors and out. I noted the following list of songs that played in one twenty minute stretch : ACDC’s Back in Black, Athena by the Who, Heartless by Heart, Freewill by Rush, and Stroke Me by Billy Squier. Which is really something if you consider my first realization above. None of the thousands of people on the mountain that day were around when that music was new or relevant. Why has that particular era of stadium rock ossified into the soundtrack of most ice sports ? But the lodge is a great place to drink bad coffee, to eat weirdly delicious omelets, to listen to pods of teenagers share stories of sick rails and fucked up falls, and to read.
The last thing I realized is that I am sick of being lied to. What I read was Benjamin Schwarz’s “The Real Cuban Missile Crisis” in The Atlantic Monthly. I had heard some things over the years about how the truth wasn’t quite what we thought it is, but I never thought it was serious enough to warrant a serious look. I was wrong.
Schwarz’ article is a review of Sheldon Stern’s “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory.” Stern has listened to and studied the Executive Committee tapes recorded during the Crisis and he reveals that the crisis was as much a political creation of the Kennedy brothers as it was a genuine threat from Khrushchev and the Soviets. Khrushchev didn’t decide to put ICBMs in Cuba out of the blue. The US had deployed Jupiter MRBMs in Turkey in 1961 aimed directly at Moscow. We already had nuclear Thor missiles in Britain that could attack the Soviet Union. And in 1961, Kennedy launched the failed attempt to oust Castro from Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs. The placement of the missiles in Cuba were a response to Kennedy’s aggressive postures toward the Soviet Union and to our nuclear missiles in Turkey.
And while Kennedy’s Executive Committee understood this, we were made to see it much differently. The American people were led to believe that Khrushchev acted spontaneously and unilaterally in a way that threatened our country and our existence. While the missiles in Cuba looked bad, they were actually less of a threat than the many SLBMs that the Soviets had a hundred miles off our shores. And we had even more on our subs parked in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The missiles in Cuba would take hours to prepare to launch, while the sub-based missiles could be in the air and on their way to an American city before NORAD could respond.
Instead of negotiating a missile trade (which Khrushchev himself had suggested, because he never really believed that his actions were anything more than a tit for tat move toward equilibrium), Kennedy presented the Soviets with an ultimatum that promised annihilation if the Cuban missiles were not removed.
I was born a few months before this all went down. I was a tiny American, voiceless and unaware that the world’s fate hung in the balance. And I wasn’t the only one. Millions of babies, children, and people all around the world were pawns in the hands of a handsome megalomaniac and his less handsome counterpart. Great Britain, France, and other countries were dismayed that a nuclear showdown had occurred when it could have easily been negotiated and resolved through normal diplomatic channels.
Stern recounts how Kennedy eventually accepted the negotiated missile trade, but he insisted it never become public knowledge. His brother returned or destroyed all correspondence on the matter in case it ever came back to bite him later in his political career. Kennedy even kept it a secret from most of his cabinet and his Vice President. He unnecessarily drove us to the brink of nuclear war and then he covered up his acquiescence in order to appear like a bad ass — forcing the Soviets to pull out or face destruction.
This is all bad enough, but Schwarz points out that this kind of blustery posturing became the template for most of our important foreign policy over the next 50 years. Reagan and Bush especially are famous for their tough talk and unwillingness to negotiate for peace. It’s become axiomatic that in order for America to be strong we have to be willing to go to the brink and never back down. And that’s utter bullshit. Kennedy didn’t do that, but he never allowed the truth to be revealed, and now his lies have put countless more American lives either in danger or in early graves.
When I was ten years old, the same age my son is now, I remember my mother crying as she watched Richard Nixon resign the Presidency in disgrace. She was distraught because it was inconceivable to her that the President of the United States could be a liar. Let that sink in for a second. Thirty-eight years ago, people wept because they realized that the President lied to them. That seems laughably naïve now. But clearly I must have had a residual flake of partisan naiveté left somewhere inside, because while I didn’t cry, I definitely wanted to yell and scream when I learned that our golden boy President was just as impeachable, if not more, than Tricky Dick Nixon.
I probably should have yelled, because nobody would have heard me over the Tom Petty song in the lodge.